Suit Settled In Foster Child's Near-drowning

May 22, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

A civil suit holding a Pasadena couple and state and county social services officials responsible for the near-drowning of an Annapolis boy has led to changes in foster care policy, the boy's attorneys saidyesterday after the suit was settled.

Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. issued a gag order on the terms of the settlement in a $15 million civil suit brought on behalf of 6-year-old Jamar R. Snyder, who was left severely brain damaged by a 1988 swimming pool accident athis then-foster parents' Pasadena home.

"This case has served to bring to light systemwide deficiencies in Anne Arundel County social services. It's impacted more than this single case, and that in itself is good," said John R. Greiber Jr., attorney for Jamar and the boy's father and grandparents. Added, RobertJ. Weltchek, attorney for Jamar and his mother, Rochelle R. Snyder, "We've gone out of our way to identify (shortcomings in the system) and spell out how to remedy them."

The boy's attorneys said the accident and the subsequent lawsuit prompted state and county foster care officials to revamp policies on placing young children in foster homes with swimming pools or on waterfront property. They also said thesuit led officials to review training requirements for program administrators and foster parents and procedures for transferring cases among administrators.

Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill, an assistant attorney general who represented state officials in the suit, said yesterday, "As with any accident involving a foster child, after Jamar Snyderwas injured the local department of social services and the state conducted a review of the incident and took appropriate steps." Fletcher-Hill said he would not comment further on the case or related changes in foster care policy until a formal settlement was signed.

Thecase stemmed from an incident at the home of James and Rosadelle Canupp of the 800 block of Riverside Drive, court records show. According to a civil suit filed in January 1990, the boy had been placed in the custody of the Pasadena couple after his mother "temporarily relinquished" him in January 1988. On May 27, 1988, a cover was removed from a swimming pool at the Canupp's home and the boy fell into brackish water while playing unsupervised, the suit alleged.

Paramedics found Jamar face down on the pool's bottom after he had been submergedfor about 15 minutes, was unconscious and was in cardiac arrest, thesuit said. The boy, who temporarily lapsed into a coma, contracted cerebral palsy and now functions as an infant, Weltchek said. He remains at the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital.

A suit filed by themother on behalf of the boy originally charged the foster parents and state and county officials with negligence. That suit was later consolidated with one filed by the father, and the defendants were charged under federal civil rights law with violating the boy's right to safety while in state custody and with failing to protect the boy.

The lawyers said state officials approved the Canupp home for a foster care license in 1981 on the condition that the couple erect a fencearound their in-ground pool. But foster care officials never required them to build a fence, and administrators did not know they were responsible for inspecting a home for safety hazards, the lawyers said.In fact, administrators who later took the Canupp file did not know of the fence requirement, the lawyers said.

The case has led foster care officials to train workers on

their responsibilities, including inspecting for hazards, and to stress the importance of passing along relevant information along with case files to new administrators, the lawyers said.

The case also led the state to issue a policyon foster homes with pools or on waterfront property, Weltchek said.Under a 1989 directive, social workers are told not to house children between 1 and 4 years old in such houses, and "extreme caution" should be used in placing children under 8 in such homes. In any case, safety codes, including fences around pools, must be followed; children cannot be left unsupervised in pools; and foster parents with poolsmust know cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

"The safety lapses in this case were just egregious," Greiber said. "If there is one point that was brought to light, it was that the outside of the home, where children play, is as important as the inside, where they live."

Greiber also charged foster care officials did not follow the "pecking order" for placing Jamar when his mother became sick. He said the boy's father and paternal grandparents were never approached as possible custodians.

Greiber said, "The real tragedy of this case was this child had a loving home to go to."

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